A Guide to the London Cycle Hire Scheme

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What You Need to Know

  1. The London Cycle Hire Scheme allows both Londoners and visitors to the city to hire bikes for as little as £1 a day.
  2. The bike scheme has the nickname "Borris Bikes" after Londons Mayor Borris Johnson, who introduced them.
  3. Becoming a Cycle Hire Scheme member makes good sense for regular users, costing just 12 pence a day. (£45 a year fee plus £3 for a key, then free hire for all use under 30 minutes.)
  4. By returning a bike to a docking station within 30 minutes of taking it, you can enjoy 24-hours access to the scheme for just £1.
  5. Fail to return a bike on time and you could be hit with up to a £150 fine.
  6. You need to be over the age of 14 to be a casual user and over 18 to become a member.
  7. Lights are built into the bikes, but helmets are not so you may want to provide your own.
  8. You can go online and use the TfL Journey Planner to map your cycle trip across London, or make use of one of the many Cycle Hire apps available.
  9. Smart phone users can get an app to keep an eye on bike availability and docking stations.


The London Cycle Hire Scheme was officially launched in July 2010 in partnership with Barclays.

Originally available only to members, the initiative has since been opened up to casual users, enabling both tourists and Londoners to benefit from cost-effective inner-city transport.

The service is available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, to both members and casual users, with bikes available from special docking stations located right across central London.


To get the most out of the Cycle Hire Scheme, it’s worth becoming a member. Membership keys, which cost £3 each, are the quickest and easiest ways of releasing bikes.

Membership is more cost-effective for regular users. While both casual users and members pay £1 for 24-hour access to the bikes and £5 for one week, the latter are able to get one year’s access for just £45, equivalent to 12 pence per day (this does not include insurance or any cycling accessories or safety gear you may require.)

Becoming a registered member of the Cycle Hire Scheme is simple and straightforward, though it’s worth noting from the start that members have to be at least 18 years of age, have a UK postal address and must agree to the terms and conditions of the initiative.

To get signed up, simply go to www.tfl.gov.uk and follow the links to the cycle scheme and then click on ‘Become a Member’.

You will then be required to fill in a membership form, giving details such as your name, home address, email address and phone number.

You’ll also be asked to choose a password so you can log into your account using the email you register with as your username, and finally you’ll be asked how you’d like to be billed.

Once you’ve entered all this information and agreed to the terms and conditions, you’ll be asked to pay the upfront costs of the scheme online, with this then releasing your key, which will be posted to you on the same day.

Casual Use

Bikes can also be hired on a ‘pay-as-you-pedal’ basis, making them ideal for casual users, including tourists.

To hire a bike on a casual basis, all you will need is a credit or debit card, with which to pay the charges.

However, all casual users need to be at least 14, with anyone using the bikes under this age not covered by Transport for London’s insurance.

Hire Fees

Hire charges are as follows:

  • £1 for 24-hours access.
  • £5 for a week, with this amount fixed per bike.
  • £45 for an annual pass (member’s only).

In every case you need to return your bike into a docking station within 30 minutes.

If a bike is returned to a docking station within 30 minutes, then no extra charge applies; keep docking the bike on time, then and you can take as many trips as you want without paying any extra (though you need to wait at least 5 minutes between trips).

Should you keep a bike for between 30 minutes and an hour, then an extra £1 will be charged, with this going up on a sliding scale to a maximum of £50 if a bike is kept for a full 24 hours.

So an annual pass for £45 is great value for money as long as you dock your bike within 30 minutes.

Taking a Bike

Docking stations are dotted all over central London, as well as in many other parts of the capital, and picking up a bike from one of these is a straightforward affair.

Members just need to put their keys into the locks found beside each bike for one to be released.

Alternatively, if you’re a casual user, simply follow the instructions on the docking station’s terminal, inputting how many bikes you want to use, for how long and whether you want to take one there and then. You will then be asked to insert your credit or debit card and enter your PIN.

Once this process is complete, a release code will be printed off at the terminal. Simply input this five-digit code into lock found beside each bike and one will be released for you to use.

Should you happen to come across a docking station with an empty bike rack, either wait patiently for someone to come along and return one, or consult the terminal screen, which will direct you to the nearest available bike.

Returning a Bike

Similarly, returning a hire bike is quick and easy. Simply find an empty space at the docking station that’s most convenient for you and park your bike, front wheel first directly into one of the slots.

The small lights located above the numeric lock to the side of the bike slot will flash green to indicate you have successfully return the bike.

If you come across a docking station with no free spaces, simply consult the terminal screen. Here you’ll be directed to the nearest free space and you’ll be given an extra 15 minutes to return your bike.

Safety Issues

All of the bikes provided through the Cycle Hire Scheme come equipped with dynamo-powered front and rear lights which are illuminated when the cycle is being ridden and which stay on for at least two minutes after a bike has been brought to a standstill.

The bikes also come equipped with a bell – located on the left handlebar – as well as an adjustable saddle.

However, the bikes do not come equipped with locks, nor are helmets provided through the scheme.

Lost, Stolen or Damaged Bikes

As of the summer of 2011, users who fail to return their bikes within the agreed time period, whether it’s 24 hours or a whole week, are liable to be charged £150.

Users can also be billed up to £300 for repairs should they return a bike damaged, while a charge of £300 is also levied if a bike is not returned at all.

However, Transport for London (TfL) pledges to review each case on an individual basis and may offer some leniency.

Faulty bikes can be reported directly to the scheme’s operators. Simply press the ‘Report Fault’ button right next to a docked bike and it will remain locked until it’s roadworthy again.

Electronic Resources

The TfL website allows users to plan their journeys within central London by bike. Simply go to the site’s ‘Journey Planner’, enter your start and finish point and you will be presented with the best route, including where you can pick up and drop off a bike.

Additionally, you will be given the choice of quiet backstreet routes and moderate or ‘fast’ routes where some main roads are unavoidable.

This tool can be accessed on internet-enabled mobile devices, meaning you can plan your journeys on the go and at the last-minute.

As well as this official TfL tool, a number of apps are also available to users of the Cycle Hire Scheme, Cycle Hire App from Fib Lab for example.

These are either free or very cheap and most are available for both Android and iPhone.

While the apps may vary, what they do have in common is the ability to map routes between docking stations, though as of the summer of 2011, none are able to advise you where there are cycles available and where docking stations are full.

Further Reading


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